The Word Became Flesh
With Christmas drawing near, I’m going to begin preaching on Christmas this Sunday, December 10, 2017. The problem with preaching about Christmas is that the Incarnation and all of Christology are recondite subjects. Every time I study Christology, I walk away with a healthy appreciation for my own limits and shortcomings. To heighten my sense of inadequacy, this week I’m preaching on John 1.1-5 and John 1.14. John 1 may be the most profound passage in all of Scripture.
The Greek text of John 1.1 has an interesting phrase. Translated directly into English, it says: “God was the Word.” Greek grammar has the interesting ability to move words within the sentence without changing the meaning, a function that English doesn’t have. In English, the sentences “Steve kissed Peggy” and “Peggy kissed Steve” mean two different things due to the different word order. The Greeks moved words within the sentence for two reasons: First, because they could. Second, a word closer to the front of the sentence was ranked as more important to the sentence. It’s analogous to how we might italicize or underline something. The point is that words closer to the front receive a mild amount of stress.
In John 1.1, the word “Word” is the subject and the word “God” is the predicate. Hence, your English translation will say “the Word was God.” In Greek, since the word “God” is moved to the front of the sentence, John is attempting to stress the fact that the “Word” is divine. What John is trying to do is stress that the Word has all the qualities that God has. Now consider what John says in verse 14.
John 1.14 makes the shocking claim that the Word, whom verse 1 recently identified as God, became flesh. Now you might think that that’s no big deal; if you’ve studied your Bible, you can probably think of other times that God took on a human body. For example, in Genesis 18, God takes on a body and talks to Abraham and Sarah. So why do we celebrate Jesus taking on a body every Christmas when God had done this before? The reason is that John does not say that Jesus only took on a body; John makes a much stronger claim which English isn’t equipped to handle. John says that Jesus took on something deeper than mere flesh and bones, though flesh and bones are certainly in the picture.
The word John uses to convey this deep concept is the Greek word sarx. Sarx does mean our physical body, but it’s more than that. Sarx means the human experience, complete with all its weaknesses, limitations, shortcomings, and failures. The term comprehends human nature, emotion, desire, and weakness. Sarx is the essence of humanity. You and I look different; we may have different hair and eye color, height, and a host of other differences. But we are all bound by our unwilling participation in sarx. It’s what sets us apart as human beings, with all our glory and dishonor, hope and failure, success and shortcomings. Sarx is our ubiquitous proclivity to do our best, yet always fail. It sets us apart as greater than our fellow animals, yet mere shadows of who we ought to be. It’s our greatness as humans made in the image of the only God, yet our continual source of humiliation.
Now consider how shocking it is that God would take on flesh! John 1 is truly a profound chapter.
I hope you see how much is going on in John 1. In just a few short verses, we are introduced to the divine Word who was present at creation and gives life to humanity. John then throws a curveball and says that the divine Word who made us then steps into our realm; however, the Word is not content with seeing things from our point of view, the Word wants to walk a mile in our shoes. To this end, the Word takes on the thing that makes us human, allows himself to be tempted, allows himself to be limited, and humiliates himself for you and me. This is what we’re truly celebrating during Christmas.
Notes & Sources
 William D. Mounce, “Exegetical Insight,” in William D. Mounce, Basics of Biblical Greek, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), 27.
Gary M. Burge, “Exegetical Insight,” in William D. Mounce, Basics of Biblical Greek, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), 77.